Numerous research studies have demonstrated that when subjects are doing more than one task at a time that their performance on both tasks tends to suffer. A new study adds an important new piece to this research, looking at what happens when individuals engage in two very different kind of activities and finding that when the tasks they are undertaking are sufficient diverse, there is no negative impact-- and in fact, there is a positive impact -- on performance.
Sabine Schäfer, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany had 32 nine year olds and 32 adults engage in a complex memory task involving numbers while either sitting down, walking on a treadmill at a speed the subject selected or walking on a treadmill at a speed set by the research team. Both children and adults did better on the memory task when walking at the speed they selected. The effect was more notable in the children than the adults. No improvement was found when the researchers set the speed and Schafer and her team posit that the researchers' speed might have been too slow to provide cognitive activation, or that the need to walk at a particular speed might have interfered with the subjects' concentration.
Why is this study important? This study gives us one more tool to consider when working with children who struggle with attention. It supports what parents and educators have long observed about children with attention difficulties -- that letting these children select a task that allows them to move about a bit, such as sitting on a chair that swivels, or even on a large rubber ball -- can help them focus on the work at hand. The authors of the study note, "'...[H]yperactive children might also be able to profit from some type of consistent movement that does not require much attention ..." This study gives us one more tool to consider when working with children who struggle with attention.